How to Gain Back Inches If You Shrink a Linen/Cotton Tablecloth or Napkins

Welcome to the 647th Metamorphosis Monday, a blog party sharing fabulous Before and Afters!

Have you ever accidentally shrunk something in the wash or while drying? Cotton and linen seemed to be especially prone to shrinking. Recently Elena shared with me an awesome trick she discovered online for regaining some of those inches that can be lost when a cotton/linen item gets shrunk during the washing process.

When Elena washed her pretty jacquard cotton/linen tablecloth and napkins after this lovely Mother’s Day dinner, she did something that many of us have done at some point in our lives, she forgot to check the washing instructions. (Table can be viewed in full here: Beautiful Spring Table. Tablecloth is currently on sale here: Beautiful Jacquard Tablecloth. The matching napkins are on sale here: Jacquard Napkins.)

Blue Damask Tablecloth, Floral Centerpieces


Elena said, “Even though the shrinkage (from my laundering mistakes) of my jacquard napkins and tablecloth for Mother’s Day shrunk by almost 3 inches, I did some research and was able to regain 1.5 inches back in both dimensions by following some instructions I found at sewinghackersdotcom.”

Elena decided to try the tips she found online on her napkins first. Her napkins were originally 22″ x 22″ in size. After washing and drying them in the dryer, the napkins were measuring 19.5″ x 19.5″. That’s a 2-1/2 inch loss overall!

Linen Napkins After Shrinking in the Wash


Elena said, “The instructions said to spritz the napkin thoroughly with water from a heavy-duty water spritz bottle, ensuring that the napkin was very damp, but not soaking wet. Then the instructions said to take a very hot “professional” iron and start ironing the napkin from the center towards the edges, over and over again.

I have a Rowenta 1800 Watt Mercedez Benz Fashion Week iron, bought from QVC 8 to 10 years ago. It’s a great iron, gets really hot! I pressed the napkin as directed over and over again, from center to edge, until the napkin was essentially dry. I measured the napkin again: I gained back 1.5 inches, the napkin was re-stretched to be 21 by 21 inches!”

Linen Napkins Restored to Original Size After Shrinking in Wash


Here’s a side-by-side comparison of two napkins: one before (on the left) and one (on the right) after the ironing process as detailed above. You can really see the difference in size! Amazing!

Comparison of Napkins that shrunk in the wash


Elena said, “I’m just happy to report that all is not lost if one accidentally abuses some expensive linen/cotton jacquard table linens–jacquard can be re-stretched to some degree. Of course, unshrinking the dining room tablecloth is going to be a big, more time-consuming chore since the original size was 70 by 108 inches—but I’m up to the task!!”

Elena added, “Moral to my story: read the use and care direction labels for your fine linens, and take them seriously.”

Elena ended her email by sharing a fun story that reminds me of my ancient washing machine that I still use, purchased back in 1980 when we had just graduated from college and had our first apartment with washer/dryer hookups. Elena said, “By the way, if the ironing board in the photos looks gnarly, that’s because it is LOL! I bought this ironing board from Kmart in the summer of 1972. I was accumulating needed things to take with me to the dorm, I was going off to college as a freshman in the fall. My ironing board is 49 years old, works perfectly well, and I have no intention of ever replacing it LOLOLOL!! I paid $18.00 for it, that was a lot of money then.”

Comparison of Napkins that shrunk in the wash


Things were really built to last back then, weren’t they? I love that Elena is still using her original ironing board!

Thanks so much to Elena for sharing these awesome tips for regaining back some of the lost inches when we accidentally shrink our cotton/linen napkins. I can’t wait to hear how this process works on her tablecloth. I’m sure it will work just as great!

I wonder if this would work on a cotton/linen shirt if it were accidentally shrunk in the wash? I bet it would to some degree! It would be worth a try if the shirt could not be worn otherwise.

The beautiful tablecloth seen on Elena’s table is currently on sale here: Beautiful Jacquard Tablecloth. It comes in both blue and pink. The matching napkins are on sale here: Jacquard Napkins.

Looking forward to all the great Before and Afters linked for this week’s Metamorphosis Monday!

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  1. Glad Elena was able to regain those inches because that tablecloth and napkins set are gorgeous. Such a pretty color and pattern.

    Psst, Elena, maybe you should pass on your restretching tips to George. 😉

    • I’ve never watched The Laundry Guy show, but I’ve seen an advertisement for it. It sounds like a great show, I’ll have to watch it.

  2. A lesson that the rest of us can learn from…Thanks for sharing it!!
    Thanks so much for hosting this charming party each and every week!! I so appreciate all the time and effort that does into it!! Stay safe, healthy and happy!!

  3. I’ve never given it much thought, but I still am using my ironing board I received at my bridal shower in 1978! Thank you, Susan, for passing on the great tips and products. I really enjoy your blog.

  4. Great tip ! LOL…I just replaced our ironing board after 44 years because the old one was SO heavy!!! Thanks for the great post and for the link party !

    • I still can’t believe I’m happily using my 49 year old K-Mart ironing board, but why replace it? From the very first time I used it, it would make a deafeningly high-pitched SCREECH as I unfolded the legs, still does. This apparently has been a HORRIBLE sound for my cats over the years; they always scatter and hide when they hear me open the ironing board legs–or even just see me carrying in the ironing board from the garage. I keep telling myself I’ll get some WD-40 to stop the squeaking, but somehow I never get around to it. LOL.

  5. Wow – what a wonderfrul tip!! I hope I learned from the moral of this story, but if not, I’ll definitely be using it! 🙂 Thanks to you and Elena for sharing, and Happy Monday!

  6. Great tip, it would have been a shame to breakup the beautiful linen set.
    Have a wonderful week 🙂

  7. I remember some member of my family drying lace curtains on a stretcher rack that was a wood frame with pins all around the edge that held the curtains in place. I think it could be used with linens too. I have a love for Irish products and purchased a tablecloth and napkins years ago from Ireland
    . I never dry it fully but leave it still quite damp and hang it to dry inside, then iron. It shrunk a little at first but that was just the weave tightening up.

  8. warren giering says

    I have a beautiful orange tablecloth made in India. It was big enough for our fully opened 108″ table. I used it once, Kathie washed it. We lost about a foot due to shrinkage. Ugh. I still use it but for smaller table settings.

  9. Jean from Georgia says

    Thank you for the tip. I purchased several hand towels to save for gifts at Williams Sonoma this year and glad to know the washing instructions. I have my eye on another set of napkins, love their linen products.

  10. Who knew you can unshrink something! Thanks Susan!

  11. Oh man, I looked at that tablecloth and it WAS expensive. I just recently bought one from WS in their Open Kitchen line (very inexpensive, comparatively). I always read reviews and someone warned of washing and drying and shrinkage. She’s paying a price with that task of ironing, I know. After many a vintage linen ironing session, I have migraines to remember them by!

  12. Susie Van Horn says

    Y’all, there is another easy way, but it uses 2 people usually. One person mentioned a stretcher rack, and that is exactly what my dry cleaners did when a friend washed a dry clean only outfit I loaned her. The dry cleaners called it blocking (stretching the material over wooden racks). But, an EASY way for me is to rewash the item, then with another person, slowly pull the item from both ends at the same time all over. This works whether it is a tablecloth or fine linen blouse. Then let it hang dry. Works every time!

  13. Carol A Norton says

    In the “olden days” folks used a stopper that fit inside a Coke bottle to sprinkle clothing and table linens. They were rolled up and put in the frig for a day or two before ironing, to enable the fabric to dampen throughout. I learned to iron on my Daddy’s handkerchiefs. He was in the Army, so they HAD to end up square to pass his inspection!

    • I had one of those. My mother used those lace curtain stretchers too.
      This is aging us. LOL Not a fan of dryers. Better to let things almost dry and fluff for a few minutes.

    • I remember my Mom and the lady next door using the sprinkle coke bottle dampening technique! That was such a long time ago, at least 50 years. This was before steam irons became really good. :0)

  14. Judith L says

    My ancient ironing board recently fell apart without warning! Those old ironing boards are nice, but they may not last forever!

  15. Virginia says

    I’ve had luck with using fabric softener or hair conditioner to relax the fabric fibers in preparation of blocking the material. After soaking for a while hand wash to get the excess softener / conditioner out, lay flat and stretch back into shape and allow to air dry. Unfortunately for me I’ve had to use this technique more than once. LOL.

  16. Love the answer about the linen problem. I do that to most of my clothes that I iron to make sure they are a little looser on me

    About the ironing board, I still use my board sense I got married ( a wedding gift) I have been married for 61 years, it is made of good metal

    From W Chester Ohio

  17. The Vermont Country Store sells the laundry sprinkler bottles and tops – I bought one several years ago and it works well (better than my steam iron which really heats up the room – and me!). After sprinkling linens, I roll them up for a bit before ironing – I’ve never heard of refrigerating the damp items, but I may try that next time!

  18. Theresa in Tucson says

    Sprinkling clothes and then ironing them; sure brings back memories. My Rowenta leaks now so I mist the clothes, let them sit a bit and iron with a dry iron. We still have our ’91 Maytag washer. It has seen the repairman twice and we have repaired it three times ourselves. I hope it outlasts me as I do not like the new ones. My standard procedure with anything washable that comes into the house is to wash and dry on the hottest setting to get all the shrink and sometimes dye out. Then there are no surprises if someone else does the laundry

  19. Cyndi Raines says

    Glad she was able to regain some inches on her napkins. ( Wish I could loose weight that easily), ha. I appreciate Carol Norton’s comment, that is exactly how I learned to iron and I also ironed pillow cases too.

  20. I enjoyed learning how to re-stretch my napkins today! Thanks for sharing that tip! Have a wonderful week!

    Tee xo

  21. RuthW in MD says

    I remember using a soda bottle with a sprinkler cork head on it, and ironing my Daddy’s handkerchiefs! When I was in college, living in an apt complex, one of the talllll guys came over with his washed, still damp jeans. He asked if he could use our iron and ironing board. I said yes, and he laid out the legs of his jeans and stretched them, pulling on them as he ironed them dry. He gained at least 2″ of further length in the legs of those denim jeans. I loved that idea, as being 5’8″ tall, I always needed another inch or two in the length of jeans that fit my waist. However, this trick doesn’t work on regular slacks, only jeans. I think the fabric has to be 100% cotton.

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